More often than not, my author web design clients hire me when they have a book about to be published. Sometimes it’s a first book, and sometimes they’re revamping their site after they have a few books under their belt … sometimes they’re self-published, and sometimes they have a publisher … but every so often I work on website design for authors before they’ve released a book at all. My work in these cases is directed at helping them build their platform for a future self-publishing project, or because they want to attract a publisher or agent.
And there are lots of good reasons for this being a rare occurrence, most notably that until you have a published book (and even then!) you may not have the budget to hire someone to create an author website for you. The issue that some writers run into, however, is that agents & publishers want to see proof of your platform as part of your pitch (woah, alliteration). So, how do you establish that without a website showing you’re a writer with a following? And do you really need a website to prove that?
Let’s first start by defining what I mean by a writer’s platform & following:
- It’s your ability to sell books & influence an audience because of your work.
- It’s your brand as an author — something well defined & easy to understand.
- It’s organic & sustained growth of your social media following, your website visitors, your mailing list, or other channels.
- It’s your ability to connect with (and reach) fans & be authentic.
And here are some ways you might do that (with, or without, a writer’s website):
- Start a mailing list. Of course you’ll need a place for people to sign up for this (ie: a website or link from a social profile), but there are few better ways to connect with people & stay on their mind than by showing up with something entertaining/valuable in their inbox on a regular basis. The key to a successful mailing list is the the content you send. If you write something that people find valuable (eg: a Newsletter) because it’s informative, or makes them laugh, or is otherwise a unique respite from a crazy world, they’re going to be willing to subscribe to it and share it with friends. Growing your list takes time & perseverance, but pays off in the end when you’re ready to tell those people about your new book release.
- Start a blog / website. Like a newsletter, you’re writing content that connects with your audience over time, but unlike a newsletter, your blog and website content is available on the internet and searchable all the time. Personally, I like the one-two-punch of doing blog posts that people can subscribe to by email because you get the best of both worlds. A blog/website can be very easy to set up, and can even be free with platforms like WordPress.com or Blogger. If you’re not sure what you might blog about (and, surprisingly, many writers aren’t), I’ve written a bunch of ideas of blog posts for authors here and also (with examples) here. And your writer website doesn’t have to be complicated — think of it as a home for your author brand online. It should allow people to get to know you & your work, link them to ways they can participate (follow you on social media or subscribe), and allow people to get in touch with you. Starting simple is always a good idea, and you can read suggestions for what you might include on your author website here.
- Write for other people. If you’re just starting out, contact bloggers who you think might benefit from your content, or pitch outlets like Huffington Post with ideas for stories related to your genre. Think about your writing not only as something that can exist on your own outlets, but throughout the internet showing proof of your verisimilitude. It’s more important at this point to be prolific than proprietary.
- Social media. A Facebook page and a Twitter profile are probably the most popular avenues for this, but Instagram & YouTube continue to gain momentum. If you don’t already know the stories of Dog Rates or Humans of New York turning their social media success into book deals (and beyond), you should look them up! The key to success here, like with everything, is to become a reliable resource that people want to turn to again and again. Simply advertising to people isn’t going to do that, but curating relevant content, sharing valuable information, and crafting posts your target audience enjoys will. If you love what you’re sharing, it’s very likely your audience will too.
- Speaking / Media appearances. You might be asking yourself, “well, Kate, if I was already making media appearances I wouldn’t need your advice about this!” But you might not be thinking broadly enough … let’s say you’re an expert at yoga for people with mobility issues (currently on my mind because of a knee injury). You’ve reached this point because you were/are a yoga instructor and realized lots of people need modified poses as they either recover from injury or live with a lifelong mobility issue. Someone from your local paper / radio station / tv news hears about you or attends one of your classes, and is doing a story on staying fit in maturity and wants to use you as a source. Now there’s a great clip of you talking about this online. Someone else from a nearby city sees it and uses you as a source for their own work on their popular blog. Now you’ve got a couple of great pieces you can reference in your own blog on this topic, exposing you to a much larger audience, bringing you closer to your dream of writing a book on this topic.
And you might choose more than one of these to tackle, which is great!
It’s important to realize that there is no magic formula for this — what’s right for you is a combination of where your audience is (you want to meet them there) and what you’re willing to actually do / have time for. If someone tells you that you won’t be successful without a Twitter following, that’s a bunch of bologna. If you have a massive following on Facebook, and that’s where your audience is, and you really hate using Twitter, definitely don’t force yourself to use Twitter just because someone tells you it’s a good idea.
Your author platform might have a website, or it might not, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that it really comes down to your ability to connect with your audience. There are lots of ways to do that, so spend some time to figure out what works best for you and get started. The best platforms start small and grow — don’t worry about getting all your ducks in a row, it’s more important to be done than to be perfect!